The Decline and Fall of Al-Shabaab? Think Again


Mas abur buu dhalaa, aburkuna mas buu dhalaa.
(A snake produces spawn, and the spawn produces more snakes.)

In the early hours of 2 April 2015, Al-Shabaab militants raided the Garissa campus of Moi University College in northeastern Kenya, killing at least 148 and wounding 79 more, mainly students. It was the worst terrorist attack in Kenya since the bombing of the U.S. embassy by Al-Qaida in 1998, surpassing even the Westgate Shopping Mall carnage of September 2013.

Some commentators have been quick to portray the Garissa operation as an act of ‘desperation’ by an organisation in decline. Others have suggested that Al-Shabaab has changed tactics in order to emulate foreign jihadist groups (“deliberately evoking Boko Haram”) or is positioning itself to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Such impromptu analysis is not entirely without foundation: Al-Shabaab is undeniably on the military defensive in Somalia and there are very real pressures on the organisation to consider an afliation with ISIS. But the Garissa operation was neither a sign of Al-Shabaab’s desperation, nor a new departure in terms of strategy or tactics: on the contrary, it was a manifestation of the group’s resilience, adaptability and strategic continuity.

In recent years Al-Shabaab has been steadily ceding ground to African Union forces (AMISOM) and its Somali allies, while the ranks of its senior leadership have been depleted by deaths and defections – including the loss of ‘Amir’ Ahmed Abdi ‘Godane’ in an American airstrike in September 2014. Al-Shabaab’s new leader, Ahmed Omar Diriiye ‘Abu Ubeydah’, has taken the reigns of a movement that remains overmatched on the battlefeld and deeply divided over strategy and tactics. Yet Al-Shabaab’s operational tempo inside Somalia, and its ability to strike beyond Somalia’s borders appears to remain intact. Read the report.

Click here to download: The Decline and Fall of Al-Shabaab? Think Again

Matt Bryden
April 2015

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